Thursday, July 28, 2016

Exploring Scotland's West Coast

Exploring Scotland's West Coast - Title Graphic

There are many beautiful towns and villages the length and breadth of Scotland’s gorgeous Argyll and Bute region, along the nation’s west coast.  

The area has always been a popular area with visitors who are daring enough to brave the Rest and Be Thankful Road and head down the Kintyre peninsula to hop a ferry to one of the Inner Hebridean Islands, walk or cycle the Kintyre Way, or simply to drive along the endlessly winding coastal route down to Southend, Campbeltown or Machrihanish.  

The Rest and Be Thankful road is at the highest point of the A83 and is 803ft above sea level.  The road winds between Glen Croe and Glen Kinglas and offers some stunning views of the valley.  It’s not uncommon for the road to be impassable during bad weather, although a new relief road has been constructed to alleviate the pressure on main route    

I’ve driven it on too many occasions to recall while working for VisitScotland but, once you’re over it, the towns and villages all the way down the coast towards the tip of the peninsula are worth the trip.
My personal favourites for spending time are Inveraray, Tarbert and Machrihanish, which run from north to south along the peninsula.   

Inveraray is famous for its Castle, Jail and as the docking point for the Vital Spark ship, which was the setting for a popular comedy programme of the same name.   This will probably be entirely unfamiliar to if you’re not Scottish, but we loved it.  We might also be a *touch* biased, but don’t hold it against us.

Exploring Scotland's West Coast - Inverary

On the way into Inveraray, as you drive across the beautiful old bridge, you can’t help but be drawn in by the view of the town and harbour on your left hand side.  Unfortunately, a view of the Castle will be on your right hand side as you cross, and it can be a bit confusing to decide what to look at first.   You’ll become something akin to a meerkat as you glance furtively from side to side trying to get a good view of both.   Top Tip: Do try to also keep your eyes on the road.

Parking is in a pay and display car park in the centre of town, just next to the harbour, or you can park up and down the main street (if you can find a space).   I’m not one for reverse parking…or any kind of parking for that matter, so I tend to stick to the P&D for reasons of personal and public safety.

Exploring Scotland's West Coast - Inveraray
Loch Fyne
Inveraray Castle is the seat of Clan Campbell and the Dukes of Argyll and sits right of the shores of beautiful Loch Fyne.   The Jail is also nearby and both are fantastic attractions in their own right; as well as being very different (obviously!).    

Inveraray offers a lovely high street, filled with independent stores and some seriously good ice cream.   Allegedly.

The first time I stayed in Tarbert for work, I had a bedroom with a view out across the water and spend an inordinate amount of my time watching the CalMac ferry going backwards and forwards, dropping off and picking up passengers.  I should have been inspecting my B&B, but the view was far more interesting than checking for mars bar wrappers under my bed.   

Tarbert, like Inverary, is in a beautiful setting.   Its harbour is filled with anchored boats, gently floating on the water, and there are some great walks around the town that offer the chance to make the most of the scenic views.

Exploring Scotland's West Coast - Tarbert

Tarbert is famous for its herring (and other) fishing history and is the gateway for access to the Inner Hebridean Islands and the Mull of Kintyre.  The town sits between East Loch Tarbert and West Loch Tarbert, which are inlets of Loch Fyne.  

Like Inveraray, Tarbert also boast a Castle; although the two couldn't be more different  Whilst Inverary is grand and imposing, Tarbert's is pretty much a ruin sitting atop a hill.

However, taking the time to climb the steps and wander across the hill is well worth it for the views alone; even if the ruins of the 13th Century Royal castle might not be much to look at on their own.   

Exploring Scotland's West Coast - Tarbert
Tarbert Castle might not be much to see, but the views from the hill are spectacular.
Tarbert is also famous for its seafood and shellfish and this is served fresh from the water at many of the lovely local eateries.

One of my favourite spots is the Tarbert Hotel which, as well as its fresh seafood, also has a 
great menu for kids, as well as a host of more unusual whiskies.   Which are absolutely not for kids.

The Starfish Restaurant on Castle Street does a mean 'Starfish Platter', which consists of a range of daily caught delights, including oysters, crab, langoustine, and lobster which can be enjoyed with their homemade bread and chilled wine.

Just a few miles out of the town lies the impressive Stonefield Castle Hotel, which boasts 60 acres of manicured gardens, famous for their impressive array of Himalayan Rhododendrons and other exotic and rare shrubs.

Mach is a small village near the very northern tip of the Mull of Kintyre and is largely famous for its quality links golf courses.    

In 1905, a 400ft mast was built on the shores of Machrihanish Beach, which was used to make the very first radio transmission across the Atlantic.    On January 1st 1906, messages were sent and received between Machrihanish and Brant Rock in Massachusetts in the US.   Not a bad claim to fame for such a little town.

The beach in the town runs for 5 miles and is beautifully clean with sparkling blue waters, which makes the location one of Scotland's most popular surfing destinations.  I'm guessing the exposed location and the wind (It is Scottish, after all) will be of major assistance in this regard.

Exploring Scotland's West Coast - Machrihanish
Fairly calm...for Scotland 
As odd as it may seem, you can actually hop a flight to Mach from Glasgow Airport on a FlyBe jet.    The airport, which is on the outskirts of town, was previously used as an RAF base.   It's a great idea, as it's a hugely long drive otherwise.   However, the scenery is spectacular.

Visitors are also very fond of the purpose built wildlife reserve at Uisaed Point.    The all weather viewing area allows for year round sea watching and spotting of some of Scotland's cutest beasties, including seals and otters.    Also: watch out for the feral goats.  They're not that friendly, although very interesting to watch from a safe distance.

Exploring Scotland's West Coast - Machrihanish
Soooo adorable

What are your favourite places on Scotland's  beautiful West Coast?

Suzanne x

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